China tells TV programs to start using subtitles

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Chinese government has encouraged all state-run TV stations above the city level to provide programs with subtitles.

The policy came as part of regulations published by the General Office of the State Council yesterday, aiming to create a barrier-free environment for disabled people. The regulations will take effect on August 1, 2012.

Li Shujun, an 86-year-old resident in Chongqing who has hearing problems, cheered the policy.

Li loves to watch TV. "But her face almost touches on the screen when she watches TV," said Li's daughter, Han Zijing. "She said it is the only way to understand what's going on."

In the past, Li's daughter sometimes downloaded programs with subtitles for Li on the computer. "Then she can sit comfortably on a couch to watch the programs."

Han said that Li doesn't like to watch shows on the computer because she has to ask for help "instead of switching the TV on and sitting there".

"Luckily, there are many programs with subtitles now, which make things easier for my mom," the daughter said.

Han said her mother was "as happy as a little kid" after learning about the new policy.

Lu Xuejing, a professor at the School of Labor Economics of Capital University of Economics and Business, has praised the regulation, saying it showed that the awareness of caring for disabled people is enhanced.

"It will bring more convenience to people with hearing difficulties," she said, adding that not all TV stations were fully aware of the special need of this group in the past.

Yao Yao, a Fulbright research fellow at John F. Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University with expertise in communication, said it is a global practice to add subtitles in TV programs for the convenience of viewers.

Yao said that in the United States and the United Kingdom, there is a button on TV remote controls for subtitles, and viewers can choose to watch TV with or without subtitles.

Yao said metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai would be able to implement the regulation by Aug. 1, but other remote cities will work toward the goal gradually.

"The subtitles will increase the accuracy of programs. For example, speakers talk in a colloquial style, which may easily cause misunderstandings," Yao said.

"China has various dialects, and the subtitles make it easier for audiences to understand the content accurately."

Wang Beiru, a director of "Super Parent Club" at Shanghai TV Station, said her program has already provided subtitles, adding that it is a requirement for recording programs.

"It gives everybody access to our show, including the ones with hearing difficulties," Wang said.

"It also helps audiences understand dialects," Wang said, but adding that it may be difficult to provide subtitles for live shows.

Yao, from Harvard, also said that a more detailed guidebook should be provided to TV stations to answer specific questions.

"For example, providing subtitles is still difficult for the satellite news gathering programs. Then questions like what kind of programs are required to have subtitles, or to what extent subtitles or captions are needed, will be answered," Yao said.

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